things the indian people are doing – 2 :: the mumbai wall project, tulsi road ::

Letter to an ex- mumbaikar:

” see! brilliant idea of bee-emm-cee!
  see! hordes of dreamers descend on pipe road, tulsi!
( )
see! a row of dull gray transform into a wall of whimsy and wit!
see! lurid bollywood posters of “gair” & “aladin” plastered all over it!
(as amitabh glowers and snarls,  riteish plays the lover –
the ex- chief minister’s son, now returned to power)
see! righteous indignation galvanise sensitive bombay youth,
see  anger and disgust for publicity most uncouth.
( )
see striped-shirt man in far corner snigger,
(himself a much-maligned, cliched figure)
and whisper:
“yeh hai mumbai meri jaan!”
–     nirvana demon (2009)”


11 of october, 2009 :: things the indian people are doing – 1 ::

This column is inspired by the immensely popular “stuff white people like” [read]

With significant differences, of course. I’m not white, for instance.  Neither am I christian (nor is my name Christian, for that matter). And most, importantly, Indians aren’t white.

Other attributes are also that they are not homogenous : scattered as they are across more than a couple millenia and a few thousand square kilometres in that faux-rhomboid subcontinent south of the himalayas and flanked by the seas. With a political identity that crystallised itself to its presentness only about 60 years back, (and with transplanted seeds scattered far and wide across the world: Jamaica, Durban, Mauritius, San Jose, Dubai, Toronto), Indianness is both an identity and a self-realisation… who is to say william dalrymple is not Indian, or that the swollen masses outside a soccer field in port au prince are…?

Yet there is a common thread that unites them all, and a common set of likely actions and predictable responses, a thread that broadly fits into the things that the indian people are doing…


Its ironic, perhaps, that I begin this series with things Indians are not doing,  what they internalise not to do from a very young age, and what they eventually never learn to do until their dying day, where they would no doubt push and shove to get through the Pearly gates too (“me first! me first!! You bleddy Saint Peter, Do you know who my father is??”)

We were driving through the orderly streets of Durban’s downtown, and suddenly came to a chaotic junction where three cars converged on us, seemingly oblivious of the traffic lights… I turned to her and asked reflexly “Guess where the Indian part of town is!”  She rolled here eyes laterally towards the nearest samosa stall…

Indians hate queues. The fact that someone else should get ahead of me, merely because of having reached that part of the universe earlier, in that specific space-time continuum, is a fact that is abhorrent to every Indian. Queue after queue in front of ticket counters will be thrown into disarray by the one joker who barges up to the head, and tries to muscle his way to the head of the line. What adds insult to injury, of course, is how he will then proceed to turn and loudly berate the people behind him in the line “Why are you pushing me, yes? what-what is it that you are doing?”, or better still, the ones who turn with a sweet smile, and assure you that yes, this is just a small interruption, and he will be off once he is done with the small task of buying the ticket….

And as the snaking queue that stretches all the way to the main gate (and spilling into the road outside) shouts and screams at the interloper in one voice, he will react with equal fervour. His shameless persistence in the face of all berations or his baleful retreat in the face of insurmountable odds will determine his success in the larger Indian Rat Race, where a billion pushing, jostling, shoving mass will leave you behind, if you don’t struggle… to stay in the lead.

And his loud protestations will give a million reasons why he should be allowed to precede everyone else waiting patiently behind him: his urgency, his occupation, his dying grandmother, his broken-down car, his connections in the ruling party, his previous experience waiting in the same line, or, most importantly… his Father’s position in society… (jaanta nahin mera baap kaun hain?)

But that is the subject of another post.


sep-one. two thousand and eight : in memory of bihar and the kosi that was :

After the earthquake,

      A child crying

In the silence

        —Jack Keruouac  “Beat Generation Haikus”


Shedding tears for Kosi, the sorrow of Bihar.

kebabs at dawat

I am in dawat restaurant just before ravivar peth, sitting with my cuppa of steaming hot, sweet chai. I have ordered a plate of sheekh kabab, and am waiting for it to come, sitting at one of the tables to the right of the kebab spit. It is a little past seven in the evening, and the restaurant is filled with bearded men in caps who are here for a chai and a bit of gossip after the azaan. The nearby masjid is called the soniya maruti chowk masjid, for some reason, and it is a beautidul structure with mysterious turrets and random minarets, glowing green in the night sky. There are different types of caps on display at dawat today. There is the smooth, beautifully embroidered filigree cap that fits right over the skull, and moulds itself to the shape of the head it adorns. This graceful headdress is in many forms, and not necessarily white all the time. Then there is the less amorphous cap that fits on the head like a thimble; it still assumes the shape of a skull, but more because of its innate structure rather than its adaptation to the man’s skull. Then there is the third variety, which I have seen several bohris wear, so I am guessing that this is particular to this community. It consists of a round band of embroidered cloth, delicately worked upon, and surrounding the head, just below the hairline. The cap rises above this, it is straight and stiff, and has a shape of its own, dictated entirely by its basic form. The top of the cap may be either smoth and rounded or it may be straight, with sharp angles. The cap usually covers the hairline, and neatly circumscribes the head.

I am sitting here writing, and the waiter who is from
Calcutta is gawking at me with unabashed admiration. I started to show him some of the pictures on my desktop, but he was called away, by an angry major domo, who gave me the once-over and stroked his long beard. People have begun filing in for dinner, and eaters at nearby tables are also stealing glances at my screen, giving me curious looks. Curious, but not unfriendly.

There are no women in this joint. It was evidently never created for the fairer sex to grace its presence, since there seems to be no evidence of a “family room”.

There are 18 tables, and the restaurant seems reasonably busy. The kebabs are delicious, anyway. But the women do not seem to think so.

I have kept a copy of Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” next to me. Noone has noticed it yet, or even picked it up in interest or the universal curiosity of all Indian crowds. If a particularly choleric cleric realised what it was, it is quite likely that I may be asked to leave the premises, or at least I may be given a few dirty stares.

Then again, Rushdie is old Satan. Who needs the salman when we have the george?

At any rate, I am still thankful for the high levels of English illiteracy in this country.

The whole restaurant is filled with smoke, and the men are talking louder and louder as the rush increases. They sit at their tables, sweating furiously, their eyes streaming with tears because of the kebab spit’s smoke pouring into the restaurant. Men passionately discuss politics and business and work and play and the fascinating tapestries of their lives.

A man came in just now, walking in from the street, and grabbed the glass of water that was on my table, untasted. Before the waiter cud get to him, he raised it to his lipe, and began drinking. He was chided out of the restaurant by the waiter, and he left, gulping down the glass as he did so. Evidently he has no money, and he is not welcome.

Suddenly, she walked in and sat at the central table. There was a man with her, but it was infinitely more beautiful to watch her. She had on a cute sleeveless top, and chic pants, topped off with smart red sneakers that she wore with careless panache. So poised was she, that not one head turned to look at her, yet instantly, everyone was aware of her. She blended into the dive smoothly, shaking her head and letting her cute earrings jangle ever so flashily, yet she caused the overall quality of the joint to rise by more than a few notches. She looked around, her dark eyes flashing, and shee coolly took in the men all round her, calmly and unselfconsciously sizing them up. Some of them looked back at her and smiled, the others looked away, their faces suddenly happier.

The man with her ordered a maaza, and asked for a glass for her. He poured it out into the glass, and she gripped it with both hands, he lips latching over the rim sloppily, he greedy tongue lapping up the juice even as she slurped noisily, her mind totally focussed on the drink and the coolness and the oh-so-sweet taste of the mango. The man ordered something to eat, and offered her some. He fed her with his own hands, and she accepted, graceful even in dribbling, pausing to get her delicate fingers to scoop up a glob of curry from the corner of her mouth. A few sighs escaped the tables nearby and rose into the air, to mix with the smoke and the sweat and the heat, and to lie there, like unfinished sentences, the forgotten wit of an esprit d’escalier…

Then it was time to leave. For me, and for her. The man called for the bill, and paid it unhurriedly, taking his time to study the figures. She appeared least interested, he mind occupied with the fascinating melange all round. She glanced over at his creased brow with a mixture of exasperation and pity; she could not be bothered with such mundane trivialities.

Finally, the change arrived, and the man scooped up all of the change, hastily picking up a few grains of saunph along with it. He looked at her as if to ask if she were ready to go, and she shrugged her shoulder with a bindaas, ubercool, I’m-ready-whenever-you-are-mister look.

So he got up, and walked out, and then waited for her to swing her legs over, and hop off the seat gently onto the ground. She was tiny, scarce upto his waist, and she reached forward and grabbed his hand as she was walking out. She finally managed to geta  grip on a finger, and she gripped it tight even as they walked past my table. I smiled at her, and crinkled my eyes, but she would have none of my sauce. So she glared at me, and put her tongue out, turning away as suddenly as she looked at me. Then she had crossed the threshold and was out on the street with him. They turned right, and walked on, till they were out of sight.

I sighed, and paid my bill.

It was time to move on.